“Flashing like tinsel” – for Mary Oliver.

“There’s Oliver, still standing around in the weeds. There she is, still scribbling in her notebook… but at the center: I am shaking; I am flashing like tinsel.”

Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard

by Mary Oliver

His beak could open a bottle,
and his eyes – when he lifts their soft lids –
go on reading something
just beyond your shoulder –
Blake, maybe,
or the Book of Revelation.

Never mind that he eats only
the black-smocked crickets,
and the dragonflies if they happen
to be out late over the ponds, and of course
the occasional festal mouse.
Never mind that he is only a memo
from the offices of fear –

it’s not size but surge that tells us
when we’re in touch with something real,
and when I hear him in the orchard
fluttering
down the little aliminum
ladder of his scream –
when I see his wings open, like two black ferns,

a flurry of palpitations
as cold as sleet
rackets across the marshlands
of my heart
like a wild spring day.

Somewhere in the universe,
in the gallery of important things,
the babyish owl, ruffled and rakish,
sits on its pedestal.
Dear, dark dapple of plush!
A message, reads the label,
from that mysterious conglomerate:
Oblivion and Co.
The hooked head stares
from its house of dark, feathery lace.
It could be a valentine.

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Delicacy.

The sun is up for such a brief moment. A bar of sunshine slants across the hill and inside all the dust of December is illuminated on glass and table and books. Outside the sparrows cluster to the unfreezing bread crumbs, blackbirds eat the half thawed windfall apples and a solitary goldfinch fluffs herself into the seed house to gorge in safety.

In some corners the sunlight never reaches at all and the frost forms thicker and thicker, riming each leaf with new flowers of ice, blooming delicately, quietly in the cold, still air.

How long can you make the summer last?

 

I love flowers: their colour; their perfume; their shape and their transience.

I like birds, I sort of like lichens, grass is tolerable. Winter is therefore rather dull to say the least. I look at birds, but they keep flying off. Lichens stay put, grasses are cut down and seed heads disperse. Ice makes pretty patterns in the puddles and snow can be beautiful, but nothing compares to a flower.

The months of winter are very, very long- so to dry the last flowers of summer and enjoy them at leisure, is some small compensation.

This summer I grew straw flowers and, as long as you pick them before they open, they make wonderfully coloured flowers for a winter arrangement . I have a marvellously sturdy yellow tansy that is covered in flowers perfect for drying and I bought a fresh bunch of stacis from the market that dried infront of the stove and keeps its colour perfectly.

I have shoved them in an old wine jug and so far they still smell of summer and are lovely: fulfilling all of my requirements, except transience.

On not being tidy.

There is a great desire to tidy up the garden at this time of year; to sweep away, to cut down and the housewife in me itches to do away with all the dying vegetation in a great autumn cleanup.

It has taken me a few years of enjoying my own garden to realise that this urge really stems from the mistaken belief that tidying away the old season, will hasten in the new. Old flower stems, mushy leaves and lank shrubs seem to cry out for a short back and sides, but having subjected my garden to such tidy mindedness in my first few years of real gardening, all I was left with was brown soil, bristling shrubs and flat grass. As there are months and months to go before the first bulbs appear and leaves soften the stark branches, I slowly realised that there is no rush to clean up and precious little point to loosing the interest bequeathed by the dying year.

Not being tidy means the seeds have time to ripen in the seed heads and the dry stems give architectural beauty lost in the tidy garden . Spiders sling their webs between the stalks and the first frosts jewel them with diamonds. The leaves shelter the worms, the beetles and the bugs that will feed the hedgehogs and the bushes are roost sites for sparrows and larders for bluetits. The unpicked grapes are pecked off by the blackbirds and the apples forgotten in the grass will feed the starlings.

The weeds that have escaped the tidy hoe in the vegetable patch find space to miraculously flower and prickly blue borage is noisy with the last honey bees.  Nothing is to be gained by pulling them up. There will be time much later in the long, long winter to make space for next year’s explosion of life.

Until them I will resist the urge to tidy and let my garden move at its own  pace: quietly, messily giving life to the winter world.

“…running through my hands”

 

The Seed-Shop

By Muriel Stuart

HERE in a quiet and dusty room they lie,
Faded as crumbled stone and shifting sand,
Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry –
Meadows and gardens running through my hand.

Dead that shall quicken at the voice of spring,
Sleepers to wake beneath June’s tempest kiss;
Though birds pass over, unremembering,
And no bee find here roses that were his.

In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams;
A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
That shall drink deeply at a century’s streams;
These lilies shall make summer on my dust.

Here in their safe and simple house of death,
Sealed in their shells, a million roses leap;
Here I can stir a garden with my breath,
And in my hand a forest lies asleep.

 

I love this poem, especially the last stanza, though I never see seeds as ashes or shrivelled, just glossy and plump with potential for the next year.

After such a glorious autumn the sleet and cold wind of this weekend are reminders that the first days of November arrive this week. I went out in the sleet to pick the last flowers and filled my pockets with the seeds I have been meaning to collect all  month. In my trouser pocket I found a black acorn I had picked up under a local oak tree earlier. The path is meely with crushed fallen acorns, every single one regulation brown except this perfect black seed. A genetic variation that will maybe heat up faster in the spring ready to germinate, or maybe it is less palitable to squirrels or mabe just unusual enough to be prized by a passing human and planted somewhere new…. “ and in my hand a forest lies asleep.”

Easy pickings: prickly pickings!

 

I was pleased as punch with the first few cherry tomatoes that the garden produced this season and as the dry, hot weather has gone on; with just a little effort,  I have filled bowl after bowl with the sweet red jewels. Previous attemps to grow tomatoes have resulted in little to eat and a lot of black blight, but this year has been a fruitful union of the right seeds and the perfect weather.

 

 

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Much sparcer, and far more difficult to pick have been the first sloes from our garden. Sloe berries come from blackthorn and the bush is well named, as the thorns are hard and very spiney. This blackthorn bush self seeded into a corner of the garden that we didn’t mow, along with birch, willow, larch, budlia, plum, laurel, fir and even an oak sapling.

We let the wild patch alone and the blackthorn has grown big enough in 8 years to be covered in white flowers in the spring time and now thick with black fruit in the autumn. In England you don’t pick sloes until they are crisped by the first frost, but I have learnt from experience that in my corner of France/ Germany/Switzerland, if you wait until the first frost, the berries will have ripened and fallen off by then .

So in the wild corner of the garden I did mighty  battle with the thorns and picked enough fruit to turn a couple of bottles of gin into sloe gin for a treat this Christmas. They will do their frosting in the freezer and I will add them to gin and sugar next week.

So you see gardening for wildlife is not entirely altruistic after all!

Dawn

I open the bathroom window, the cat leaps onto the window sill, huge eyed she surveys the black garden. The houses are dark, the shutters are down. Above the hill a crescent moon reclines on thin clouds.

A tawny owl calls soft and is answered, soft, soft. Bat, or is it bird, black against grey, very close. One cluck, another and then an indignant coal scuttle of falling notes clattering hard against the leaves: the blackbirds are awake – there is orange in the sky.

The church spire appears and a black redstart ticks the waking minutes from the rose arch. The Rome flight takes off and the plane leaves a dirty streak of noise across the sky followed by another and another. The pale blue morning is now tartan with orange vapour trails.
Two crows weave through, chatting companionably together against the immense  sky. The sparrows are awake, a car hisses by.

The donkey, that I have never heard in my entire life, brays to the crows.

The cat jumps down.

 

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Gardening Organically

I found this great post and I just pressed the reblog button in my enthusiasm. I didnt have time to ask for permission and I really hope The Wildlife Gardener doesnt mind my hasty action, but it is a really good piece and it expresses the need to ditch the chemicals much better than I can!

The Wildlife Gardener

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It’s tempting to reach for the chemical sprays or powders when your walk into your garden and find your favorite rose overrun with aphids or Japanese beetles, or find your cauliflower beset by cabbage worms.  After all, what harm can a localized spray possibly do?

The answer is quite a lot.  The fact is 90% or more of all insects are beneficial and harmless, and no matter how “localized” the spray, the chemical will kill all insects, not just the “pests.”  A diverse collection of insects in your garden/yard translates into good pollination and fruit development, and a natural, non-toxic check on the growth of “pests.”  We need insects in the ecosystem.  The alternative would be hand-pollinating our fruit and vegetables to continue our food supply; clearly not a viable or reasonable alternative.

Beneficial insects, if allowed to flourish, will curb the spread of pests.  The two most effective ways to encourage…

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Blink.

Today was hallucinogenic lace. Threads of nothing from branch to no where and then gone. Lines across the eyes that lift and leave and we feel that it meant something, but it couldn’t, it wasnt there.

The spiders were balloning. Fine autumn weather and wolf,house and crab spiders take to the air throwing out gossamer lines to launch the next generation on the wind. Such wonderful faith in the future, they throw themselves on the hallucinary beauty of the breeze. We blink our slow eyes and almost miss the marvellously minute migration in the air all around us.

Ode to Autumn.

This has been a real autumn. The grapes have loaded the cottage eves heavy enough to fill bottle after bottle of sweet grape juice. Last autumn there was nothing at all after a terrible frost struck following a precociously  early spring. There were no apples, no plums, no walnuts and no grapes. The apples press next door was utterly silent and the wine growers of the Alsace said the couldn’t cover their tax bills.

This year has been a wonderful contrast. The clink of bottles filling with apple juice has been continuous since the pressoir opened a week early. Thanks to the generosity of a friend with apple trees, we have 70 litres of cider bubbling in the garage . This weekend we harvested our own seedy red grapes. I got spectacularly stung by a wasp that hit me between my fingers as I picked and put my swollen hand in a sling for two days!

The real grape harvest started three weeks earlier than usual in the proper vinyards and it promises to be an excellent year for wine.

Here on the coldest edges of the wine country, we have enjoyed a lovely pass the parcel of plums and apples, mirabelles, and blackberries as each neighbours passes their lucious surplus on across the hedge.

This really is a proper autumn!

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Apples going to be crushed for cider.

Magic 2

This may look like a huge loofa, but in fact it is the saw dust from when we last sawed logs for the stove. In the intervening months mysterious and secretive ant lions have found this dry spot and excavated tidy death traps for passing insects. The larvae wait, jaws upwards waiting for unspecting minibeasts to tumble in. I never cease to be amazed how wildlife will find a home everywhere, if we just leave a little time and muddle for them to enjoy!

For those of you who came up with wonderful ideas for Magic 1 post – Flighty was closest!
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It was a chunk of a large blue staining boletus mushroom found in the woods. Apparently it is edible, but nothing so garish gets between my gnashers!

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Pivot..End of August…..

Nine o’clock at night and it is night, as the end of summer darkness has come quickly. The commuters have all gone. The swishing tyres are silent. On the curve of the hill a tawny owl calls . Again and again more distant now as the darkness thickens.

My near neighbour is clearing the dinner plates. Her voice is full of urgent news and chatter. There are no spaces for replies. Through the lighted window her daughter stretches up her arms after a full meal. The chatter disappears, the owl returns. In the street a car drives away. The daughter and her boyfriend leave her parents to a quiet, tidy house.

Madame Charlotte’s feral cats appear: quiet, black, quite aware that I am no threat to them, they drink from the hedgehog bowl and delicately sniff out the cat food discarded by my pampered hygienic moggies. I think I can hear earthworms slithering. An apples falls heavy from a tree onto the cooling grass behind me.

In front, Madame Charlotte’s 45 year old son parks up under the eves of the old barn. He lets out a prodigious belch and fumbles into the house. The lone bat leaves the high eves and goes out across the orchard to feed.

The mosquitoes are feeding on me. Time to go in: the autumnal kitchen door slams behind me.

Wide Eyed.

Deadly Night Shade has a beautiful name in English and in Latin. It’s English name ushers us in to dark oblivion, but the Latin name shows us something more dangerously seductive. Atropa Belladona, used as a poison works quickly and effectively, but used in very small doses it apparently dilates the pupil of the eye and makes the user strangely attractive to the viewer – she becomes the bella donna.

Blossoming and fruiting together on its long stems, this Deadly Night Shade seemed well hidden by the forest. The fruits are black and disturbingly luscious, but I think no eyes dilated on seeing them here beneath the cool beech trees. Atropos, the fate who can cut the thread of human life, held her breath. Everything was quiet and innocent in the woods: only the names of the flowers breathed murder and lust.

 

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Breathe in.

Stripping lavender flowers from their stalks is the most peaceful task I know.

As you sit beside a basket of trimmed flowers and rub your fingers along each stem, the seeds are crushed: gently releasing a perfume that soothes the soul and relaxes the mind as it rises. The bowl  slowly fills with soft light flowers. Plunging your hand in and stiring releases more perfume, until you can taste lavender on your tongue and feel it on your eyelashes. The world is slowed down. You breathe deeply and everything seems safe and clean, fresh and very very  young.

I always leave the lavender until it is seeded, as the flowers attract clouds of butterflies and bees that I would not deprive of their perfumed food. The seeds smell just as intensely as the flowers and this way I have the pleasure of their perfume and the sight of the butterflies too.

A few bunches are hung up for decoration and the rest will fill cotton bags to scent pillows and sheets in the linen cupboard. The smallest lavender bag will go in my work bag. When I need reminding of my garden I rub it between my fingers and I am back in the green shade inhaling the complex glory of lavender in a safe, perfumed summer garden.

In the eye of the beholder.

I know the photo will make some shudder, but to me this is beautiful.

Oak Egger moths are big and bold and so covered in fur they seem designed for the arctic . It has been too hot here for doing anything during the day, so I get up at dawn to enjoy what little cool there is . Gently opening the moth trap still makes me feel like a child on Christmas morning discovering the presents left by Santa. A flurry of tiny white moths always escape at once, but then I slow lift out the egg boxes one by one and see what the night has brought with enough time to photograph and to check names in the book.

Identifying is satisfying; sending  in records to the local wildlife trust is worthy, but often I don’t want to do either.

Who cares what they are called, when they are there on your own hand, regarding you with their unfathomable eyes?

Sometimes science can wait. I just want to stare back.

Eye, eye!

 

The odd creature in the large reading glasses is me, but the monster on the left is a large elephant hawk moth caterpillar. He was lying flat to the stem of the evening primrose plant, but when confronted by my alarming visage he retracted his elephant snout ( hence the name) swelled up his head prodigiously and waved his huge eye markings at me in an impressively menacing way.  He was quite harmless, but his display of monster mimicing should repel all but the most agressive predator!

We have had some welcome rain, which has brought out a banquet of slugs for the hedgehogs. Last night I found a youngster drinking deep from the water in the saucer of a just watered plant and later this afternoon , in broad daylight, a larger hedge hog was drinking unconcernedly from the saucer of water I always leave on the lawn.

This large, old plant saucer has provided water for generations of hedgehogs, for wasps and sparrows and black birds. It isn’t pretty, but it has been a life saver, so keep an eye on the wild visitors to your garden by keeping the water topped up. You never know what you might see!

 

 

In plain sight ( 2)

The garden is alive with butterflies by day and moths by night. Some moths are bright and some butterflies are drab. This ringlet took a break from feeding on marjoram flowers in the sun and rested a momement amonst the drying seeds. Blink and you miss it, but she had found the perfect camouflage and sat awhile until I had time to photograph her and then she flitted on in her unfathomable world.

 

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July (lying in a hammock)

The afternoon heat rises, the brown cases of lunilaria, peeled back to reveal the secret moonlight of the seed septum, scratch light along the stones.

Small bees vibrate in the Russian Sage .  Blue tit fledgelings are unexpectedly insistent: hungry, hungry, hungry in the sallow.

And then again, the quiet.

The church clock dolles out the half hour of stillness, one note at a time . The crow with sore throat calls familiar.

Nothing.

A frill of swallow song thrown over head and then gone.

A car. The ravens roll distant above the forest .

The bees…the bees….. bee…. b…

 

 

( for James Wright)

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Water

I peered into the water butt and thought of Seamus Heaney’s great poem about looking down into ourselves, into history and into myth to find poetry.

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As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall

Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.